Pieces

One of Abigael’s best friends made and posted this video a couple of days ago, on July 22—one year from the date when, on a normal summer evening, Abigael entered the Willamette River and did not re-emerge.

I love the moments captured on the video—these pieces of her. They are not posed moments in time where she has stopped moving, stopped talking, stopped twirling or singing. They are flashes of her living, alive. It seems impossible that it has been a year since I have heard the melody of her laugh or watched her entire face erupt into a smile. Impossible, because it has felt interminably long sometimes, gritting my teeth and trying to stay upright just long enough to escape to my bed. But also, it feels like I JUST smelled her head and squeezed her—how could a whole year have gone by?

We spent the day in quiet reverence for the year that we survived without Abigael, tucked far into the woods she loved, doing what she loved, together as a family. But, this one year marker shattered me, again. I have spent the past year trying to pick up the pieces left of me and arrange them in some sort of way that felt recognizable and functional.

There have been moments, watching myself and my family navigate this incredibly difficult journey, that I have felt like the concoction of glue that I poured myself into creating—our deep family connection, counseling, support group, writing, close friends, book after book on grief, sharing my experience about loving Abigael—that concoction was working. The rest of my family was surviving. I was surviving. But, the realization that I had experienced Christmas, her birthday, Mother’s Day, her friends’ college graduations, her baby sister’s sweet 16, all without her the glue did not hold. I fell apart. I was taken back to the quiet of the morning hours after the police banged on our door to tell us she was missing. I relived the horror of recognizing that my daughter was dead. I wept and I wailed and I keened. I mourned. And I felt helpless staring at the rubble of pieces that I had carefully tried to put together over the past year.

Shortly after we returned home from Oregon, my best friend took me to a grief support group meeting. I ended up landing in a group of crafters. As we shared our stories, their knitting needles clacked away, they stitched together blankets, crocheted baby hats, created needlepoint and artisan greeting cards. I have none of those skills, but I was content to fumble my way through some feeble attempts. Because I had landed in a group that was so soft, and so warm. A group in which my ugly crying, my anger, my fears, my desolation was not shied away from. After months of meeting, one of the women offered to help me make quilts from Abigael’s clothing.

I didn’t know a single thing about quilts. I always found them so interesting, because they so often have a story to tell. The pattern or the colors or the fabrics. When she said we would make it “together”, it was a daunting thought, as I’m not naturally inclined in crafts beyond puffy painting t-shirts. The first step was to sort through Abigael’s clothing. All of it was unwashed, so it smelled her unique, earthy smell. There were tea and coffee spills on her robe and dirt from sitting on the ground, little holes from hot ashes. The clothes were pieces of her life.

After choosing the fabrics, my job was to take her whole clothes and cut them into uniform squares. It took me weeks to gather up the strength to cut into this fabric that was alive with her—walking in the woods, brewing tea to share with friends, laughing by a campfire. The first cut I made I couldn’t see through the blur of my tears—which might explain why I was so bad at even this basic first step…this sewing stuff is HARD. Taking the clothes from her closet, cutting them into little squares was acknowledging that she wasn’t making any more memories in them; it was a finality.

Next was choosing the fabrics to pair with Abigael’s clothing and as we walked through the process together, I was amazed at the way the fabrics worked together, some of them making the clothing squares stand out in bright contrast, and some almost just melting together at the edges. I thought about the rich, vibrant people in Abigael’s life—those whose arms wrapped her in those clothes, who bumped into her at a party, spilling liquid on her dress. The people that illuminated the nuances of her personality and her journey. Like the fabric surrounding her clothes, they complemented her perfectly, fitting around her edges and blending into the seam of her being.

At that pointed, the project was turned over to the expert, because I couldn’t even cut a straight square. I have known her for less time than Abigael has been gone, but this woman, who has suffered her own unfathomable loss, devoted many, many (I don’t know how many, but a LOT) hours just sewing. With love, sewing the scraps of my daughter’s clothing into an unbelievably beautiful portrait of Abigael.

She told me that as she continued to piece it all together and work with the fabrics, she felt like she got to know Abigael. Before I even saw the quilts—she made THREE, so each of her sisters could have their own,—I loved them. Because in the act of making them, this woman who had never met my bold, colorful, vivacious, infectious daughter felt her spirit, her aliveness so clearly that she brought that life to a new form. A form that is not only beautiful to just sit and admire, but a form to cover me, make me feel safe.

What a gift to be able to take pieces, just scraps really, and create an entirely new, uniquely perfect, refined form for those left behind bits. A beautiful table out of long abandoned barn wood, a mosaic from the shards of someone’s favorite coffee mug, a quilt from the clothing worn by a beloved young woman whose departure from this worl left a swath of broken hearts and broken people.

Learning to live after the death of my daughter feels a lot like this process. Standing back, looking at the pile of pieces, trying to figure out what in the world to DO with all of these pieces which contain her; how to weave them into the fabric of my own incredibly broken life so that what emerges is not a portrait of loss and longing. What comes from the pieces is whole and beautiful. It begs people to stop, to look closer, to see the tiny imperfections and the meticulous work it took to revision those scraps. It is a new way to see beyond the human knowledge of a life to experience an even deeper, more beautiful, significant one.

This has been my experience with grief so far. I was overwhelmed by the futility of the scraps of my daughter’s life. They simply aren’t enough. They do not add up to HER. So I have spent the past year trying to write them, sew them, collect and distribute them, share these pieces of her life, her aliveness, her spirit to create a new way of seeing and knowing my daughter. It is painful, this process of relearning. And sometimes all the pieces I’ve carefully arranged and constructed get swept away in a gust of unexpected emotion and I have to start over, changing the angles and my vantage point and my method.

But I know it is not in vain. Allowing all of the pieces of her to be rearranged in a new way, and being willing to see her beauty in a new light allows her story to continue to be told. It gives me the opportunity to rediscover and redefine my relationship with her. Because it’s not over. Love doesn’t end. Love IS. Abigael is.

12 Comments

  1. Suzanne Kapral says:

    ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kim McKenrick cuff says:

      Tressa your words are amazing your loss is tragic your recovery will go on forever your memories will last forever your love for your daughter will last a lifetime. may this beautiful quilt wrap around you and tour husband and daughters and give you warmth n comfort and feel that Abigail is closer than your think my friend. hugs n prayers

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Gharm says:

      😭 Beautiful Tressa ♥️
      You are one of the most strongest women I know 💪

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Katie says:

    💕

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Shelby says:

    You have such a gift with words…thinking of you all…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Shelby says:

    You have such a gift with words…thinking of you all…❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. bekiivk says:

    Yes. Yes to all. “They are not HER.”
    As each day requires a readjustment of pieces, may Love be the glue so you don’t have to be. Love you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tracy Lombardozzi says:

    Thank you Tressa. Seeing Abigael’s smile and joy continues to remind me of keeping the relationships full of love. The quilts are beautiful for many reasons and seeing God gift each of us for one another. Love you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Karin says:

    Beautiful words from the heart and soul. Praying for all of you as you find ways to walk the grief journey and put the pieces together. One day, one step at a time. Love you

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Karin says:

    As always your words leave me with no words………….I am glad that you have found a group that can understand and empathize with your grief as you walk the journey no one ever wants to walk. I am glad that God put people (this special lady) in your path to help you along the way. Sending much love to you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Susan says:

    Tressa, thank you. You are so gifted in “sewing” together words to make beautifully crafted messages. You give us such vivid insights into who Abigael will always be.

    Liked by 1 person

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